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Aug. 24 2009 - 2:14 pm | 33 views | 3 recommendations | 34 comments

Clark Hoyt, go soak your head

Louis XVI

Bill Keller (Image via Wikipedia)

I don’t know Cintra Wilson.

In fact, I never heard of Cintra Wilson before Clark Hoyt, the humorless public editor of The New York Times, did a Torquemada on her Sunday, but now I am Cintra Wilson’s number-one fanboy. I am prepared to die that Cintra Wilson may live.

But I want Clueless Clark to go first. I want him fed to the sharks without further ado. Adieu! Spring the trap door. Blam! Down he goes! Splash! Crunch! Bleed! Oo, that felt good.

Let me now make this diatribe even more apocalyptic: You, Clark Hoyt and the cluck-clucking, brain-dead editors (starting with the Times’ Louis XVI wannabe, Bill Keller) who agreed with your Babbitt-like op-ed-page hit job on the witty and readable Wilson, are one of the reasons why the Times is having that little problem we all keep hearing about…you know, the sliding-into-oblivion thing?

Because it’s boring. Always has been but now, because there’s actual competition, people notice. And here you are, Clark, proclaiming, “Let’s make it still more boring!”

This might just be the absolute worst time in the history of newspapers to come out for boring.

OK, the nut graf: Cintra Wilson is a freelance (i.e. badly paid) contributor who writes the Critical Shopper column for the Times, alternating with another writer. Instead of just manufacturing standard service-piece boilerplate tedium, she puts some actual style in the Fashion & Style section. Some bite. Some humor. So now she writes a piece on J.C. Penney opening its first store in Manhattan. Dares to make fun of Penney! Calls it dowdy. And worst of all, she makes fat jokes:

And herein lies the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy’s. To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”

Oh boy, roll out the tumbrels.

Readers write in and, OMG, they’re complaining! Ow, it hurts, it hurts. Their tender sensibilities have been bruised, their honor, their taste and their waistlines insulted.  Oh boo hoo! Excuse me while I weep copious tears. Helen from Baltimore was dismayed at the column’s “fat hatred, class bias and nasty humor,” according to Hoyt. Kristin Ann from Seattle was offended. Sarah from Virginia saw the column was “saturated with disdain.” Other readers found it “a voice for class privilege,” “hateful,” “genuinely cruel” and “smug.”

Gadzooks! Panic in the newsroom! They’re saying we of the Times who strive so hard not to condescend to our inferiors are arrogant elitist tubby-prole bashers! Aiiiieeee! That really hoits! That’s about the worst thing you can say to a sensitive Times editor. Let the soul searching begin! “By the time the column got around to some praise for Penney’s and the caricature of the kind of Manhattanite who does not shop there,” the damage had already been done,” harrumphs Hoyt. Executive Editor Keller pules that his Mom would have found the piece “snotty.” A lower editor oh-dears that The Line Has Been Crossed…you know, that dread border beyond which lies the bleak and hopeless slough of snark.

Wait a sec. Have none of them noticed that the entire NYT fashion department, not to mention the entire fashion industry, has worshipped at the shrine of the skinny merink for approximately forever? Now, all of a sudden, it’s a terrorist incident when someone makes a few wisecracks on the subject?

What a parade of spineless, pablum-spewing, pants-wetting, pusillanimous milksops.

And just three weeks before we had this same Hoyt, this empty-eyed, hollow-cheeked thing that walks in the night, draining the lifeblood of the living, tearing into another female stylist, Alessandra Stanley. Unlike Wilson, Stanley at least made some errors, but you might have spared her the public humiliation because, for one thing, she writes well. (And by the way, here comes a tightly guarded trade secret, people, so keep this under your hats: Everyone makes fucking errors! Even Harrison Salisbury blew one now and then. The New York Post doesn’t even bother running corrections because they would fill its entire news hole.) The Times, though most of its editors have never understood this, needs people who write well, which many newspaper reporters and columnists still don’t do, even at this late date.

Hoyt, Keller, the rest of you fatuous, Sanforized twits, let me explain something to you that for some reason they don’t teach in journalism school. I’ll make it simple: Funny not bad. Funny good! People like funny. Funny make people larf. People larf, people feel good! They maybe buy paper again. True, funny usually offend some jackball or other. Too bad! Why you always scared silly of a few whining dunces? Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Know what else? Damn few people can do funny! You get one who can, you nurture her, you protect her, you give her a raise, you fucking treasure her…not stomp on head.

That clear? Or should I make this dull, pretentious and respectable—you know, Times style–so you can understand it?


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  1. collapse expand

    Her name is Cintra Wilson, not Cintra Miller.
    I hope you don’t have children. Two generations of imbeciles is enough.

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    Some people who cover fashion are sometimes snarky, yea, even unto cattiness??
    I’m shocked … shocked.
    The Times hasn’t done anything funny since they let Rich write about politics, but you’ve done something I didn’t think possible. You’ve driven me to the archive of the Fashion and Style section.
    Can someone be the ethicaleditorwizardofoz with so thin a skin that he or she worries so about those who worry so that Tom will someday maim Jerry, or who watch the Three Stooges so they can understand “anger issues”?
    Some days I really can’t shake the feeling that we are all soooooo f#cked.

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    Reports have been circulated in commercial real estate sectors that a Super Walmart will be built on the historic Bleecker St Park site in the West Village. Designed in the Federalist style of the neighborhood, au pairs and local domestics, as well as less heeled shop clerks, writers, and artists will all be well served by cheap groceries and sturdy Chinese made clothing – not that there is anything wrong with the Chinese. The trifecta for Manhattan will come in 2013 when Costco begins construction near the new Penny’s. Tom Medlicott

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    Mr. Grossberger,

    I do not think you have thought your blog out very well. Your position seems to be that funny writing is better than non-funny writing, so if Ms. Wilson’s writing is funny it there must be good. Now if you think this through carefully, I am sure that you will realize that you do not really mean that. Let us put the shoe on the proverbial other foot. Let us suppose that a writer put together a really funny piece about rape or a lynching. Would really say “Hey get it over it, it was really a really funny story”. I think not. So funny is not really the final standard for assessing writing is it?

    Now, before you jump off and say “Well this is different (isn’t it always?), this is just about how funny it is that fat women are not as attractive as skinny woman and how funny it is that a department store would put clothing on display for those funny looking unattractive fat women” it is worth noting that there is actually a serious problem with women who starve themselves, sometimes to death, because they perceive themselves to be fat and unattractive. You appear to be old enough to remember the singer-song writer Karen Carpenter who did just that. It is exactly the social pressures that this sort writing exemplify that cause these internalized images.

    You might want to, on your next blog, take a few moments and think it through.

    • collapse expand

      The fat thing was actually a small part of the story (and the writer also made a joke about Manhattan’s ectomorphs). The larger joke of the piece was about a dowdy, unfashionable store trying to succeed in hip, ultra-fashionable Manhattan without bothering to do much adjusting. Can we not poke some fun at the various human foibles–and at a dept.
      store– without going berserk over political correctness?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Mr. Grossberger,

        No one was criticizing the article overall, only the part that you pulled out and italicized “To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of ‘Roseanne.’” That was where the problem lied. It is rather like “Aside from that Mrs. Kennedy, how was your trip to Dallas?”. Yes, aside from that one part, the article was very funny.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          Let’s see if I understand this: Making fun of obese J.C. Penney mannequins is the equivalent of making a JFK-assassination joke?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            Mr. Grossberger,

            Allow me to explain, you see Mrs. Kennedy traveled to Dallas with her husband, President Kennedy. She spent many hours there and all but a very few of those hours, the ones toward the end of her trip, were very pleasant. So looking at the trip from a strictly quantitative point of view, one might be tempted to assess the trip in a positive light as on the balance, there were more pleasant hours spent there than unpleasant. The imaginary questioner of Mrs. Kennedy is apparently doing exactly this, not recognizing the quality of those fewer unpleasant hours might might be so negative as to out weight many more positive, pleasant hours spent in Dallas. This is of course completely absurd, any reasonable person would intuitively know that Mrs. Kennedy’s trip was completely ruined by events of the few fateful hours. This one imagined question captures the ridiculousness of a strictly quantitative assessment of events.

            So to with the article in question, it might only be 500 or so words arranged into two score sentences, the majority of which might quite clever and amusing while only a small part might hurtful and unhealthy. As incongruous as it would be to try to assess Mrs. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas in a simple mathematical sum of the number of positive and negative time spent there, it would equally absurd to try to assess this article in so simplistic a fashion, as if the many humorous portions somehow by weight of their brute number the far fewer poorly considered portions.

            Hopefully this clarifies matters.


            In response to another comment. See in context »
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      How have you turned a blog about a obese mannequins into an article about Anorexia? We all know the immense pressure of society on people to look amazing. Also, I don’t think this gentleman was trying to state that funny is the only way to write, but that the paper should lighten up some and not reprimand writers for entertaining people with humor. The way you twisted this article to create your own agenda is disturbing. If you want to address Anorexia, maybe you should do a blog to raise awareness and some humor in your article to lighten the tense subject up might even help.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      A really funny piece on rape or lynching? Bring it on! It had better be really funny, though, or you’ll get mocked for failing to be funny.

      The issue here is that JC Penney is a big advertiser in the Times, and has enough advertising clout to get the Times editorial board to slap down one of the Times’s own writers for something the Times editorial board had previously approved. THAT is the really scary thing about this.

      Even the Times is vulnerable to that phone call from the big advertiser who says “You want my business?”

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Oh dear. So many threads to untangle. 1. Fine piece and angle–always make the case for humor, esp. in the still Gray Lady. 2. Nice attack on boring old Clark Hoyt and his stuffiness. The one thing an ombudsman should never be is stuffy–like that dreadful Deborah Howell who neutered everything at the Washington Post. 3. Cintra Wilson just isn’t very good or particularly funny. She has no empathy, which is the first requirement of satire. And she is so full of herself she pre-empt’s the reader’s enjoyment. Let’s defend her in principle but not in practice. She’s in the right–and AWFUL.

  6. collapse expand

    Holy crap…I used to live near New York in a fine city called Brooklyn and that shared some similitude wit those across the bridge. Seems those commenting on your choppin of the stuffy ole grey lady know nothin of New Yorkers, except dexterw who knows the proper protocol for debate in New York but for the others…first off everyone there knows that there’s the city and the boroughs and everyone else in the world, we are smarter than all of yous put together and tougher and meaner… want to find out how mean just look at one of us in the eye. We are also funnier than you, you don’t even get the joke, do you? Here’s the sad part, the part that calls for a New Yorker to pull off the jewelry, put the glasses in the pocket and call ya out to the alley for a throw down. Boring. There is no boring in New York, there is zero tolerance for boring, it is a nonexistent state of being there, so if you’re tawking or writing it better be illuminating, interesting, insulting, biting or funny or a plain angry in your face rant or forgetaboutit. If a newspaperman looks in the mirror and sees some friggin frightened corporate lapdog he should expect to be run out of town on a rail. Keller would know this if he could look in a mirror but he usually has his head up his ass blindly screwing up a good newspaper. And who the hell cares about JC Penny or fat people anyway and if they can’t take a joke screw em.

  7. collapse expand

    Nice to see somebody calling out the Times on this. I couldn’t believe how every single editor was doing their best Pontius Pilate imiitation. And Keller? “My MOTH-er would have found it snot-ty!” Who the fuck is running the newsroom over there nowadays, Milburn Drysdale?

    Now, my Mom, I loved her, God rest her soul, she liked her Seagram’s 7. If I read somewhere that someone gave the opinion that 7 tasted like piss and the only reason people bought it was because it cheap and got them drunk, I wouldn’t have taken it personally. Neither would my Mom. She probably would have laughed at it and agreed.

    George Carlin, you left us too early. You really could have torn these editors a new one over this.

  8. collapse expand

    I bet Roseanne would think the “Roseanne” line was funny.
    For sure, I have no idea what most folks mean when they use the word “empathy.” Sometimes it’s some Vulcan mind-meld thing, here it’s suggested to be a sort of intimacy felt for something you then poke with a sharp stick.
    And I’m old enough to have learned that by now. I’m so old, I remember when the joke ran, “But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

  9. collapse expand

    Thank you for writing this.
    Heck, thank you for even thinking it.

  10. collapse expand

    ^ Just to clarify, my comment is for you, Mr. Grossberger.

  11. collapse expand

    >>Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

    Amen, brother!

    Frankly, I thought it unseemly how everyone at the Times threw their writer to the wolves… funny how they didn’t do that nearly as eagerly in far more serious cases, you know, the kinds where facts were involved.

  12. collapse expand

    Ah, I get it! It’s funny! Your passionate defense of a self-absorbed, snobby New Yorker is a credit and a service to all self-absorbed, snobby New Yorkers who rely on stale, tired caricatures of the rest of the country to fill column space!

    The problem with the column wasn’t the target of her “satire”, necessarily (which, by the way, wasn’t really great satire), it was that it’s the same old boring tripe every New Yorker tries to sling when describing anything that’s not from CENTER OF THE WORLD NEW YORK.

    Overweight? Check.
    Not very stylish? Check.
    Middle-class sensibility? Check.

    If you’re going to pick on the rest of the country and our fashion sense, try something new. White athletic socks, for example.

  13. collapse expand

    Attacking the Times for not being funny misses the point. It’s like attacking McDonald’s for not making health food. It’s not their brand, it’s not what they do nor is it what they even want to do. If Keller and Hoyt want to save the NYT, turning it into Mad magazine (i.e. only a funny newspaper is worth reading…really? why?) is hardly the answer. There’s plenty of pissy puerile humor on offer out there already.

    They don’t want to be funny and when, speaking as someone who’s written many stories for different nine sections there, you try to be funny it’s quite likely to get edited out/simmered down by one of the many editors who will read and comment on and question your copy. So people like Mike Albo and Cintra Wilson are the de facto court jesters given license to be bitchy for all of us who have to remain polite and calm.

    And how many people actually take a shopping column, in the Styles section (a parody of itself by now) that seriously?

    • collapse expand

      I don’t say everything in the paper has to be funny…though that would be quite a thing to see! But why can’t writers with the talent to be funny, in appropriate places–fashion/style, sports, pop culture, certain feature pieces–be allowed to? That’s not what the NYT does? Yeah, well, what it does doesn’t seem to be working so well, does it? I say loosen up, not just on humor but on good writing in general. Why is it that good magazines like the New Yorker can run 6,000 words on oatmeal and I want to read the whole piece whereas in the Times I quit one story after another after a few grafs? Why is it the Brit obit pages can tell the truth about powerful, obnoxious dead people and do fascinating yarns on eccentrics while the Times obits are mostly dull? Why is the Times magazine so unremittingly boring? How come you so placidly accept the editors cutting your good stuff? Do you not think it would make for a better paper if editors were told to change only things that were incorrect and stop emasculating writers who can write well?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Attacking the Times for not being funny is NOT like attacking McDonalds for not making health food — it’s like attacking McDonalds for not making health food when they TRY to make health food.

      Here’s the Times, with what you call a court jester licensed to be funny on your behalf so that you can remain humorlessly earnest, and having approved the court jester’s piece, the Times deides to slap the court jester down because of a phone call from the Penney’s advertising department. Oh, sure, they covered it up by pretending that it was really a case of there still being fat people out there whose fingers can still find most of the appropriate keys on a keyboard without making their copy look like it was typed by a collection of kielbasa, but the Times has managed to withstand the outrage of every kind of minority so long as its advertisers paid their bills.

      The scary thing is that now we have to say “Even the Times has to coddle its advertisers.” Where are the editors who’d say to an advertiser “We write what we please and we have a big audience for that, so if you want our audience, you’ll have to put up with what we write, or go elsewhere”?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  14. collapse expand

    Hah. Get in line Lewis, I’ve been a fan of Cintra Wilson for years. Her brand of funny, GOOD. Thanks for sticking up for her.

  15. collapse expand

    I accept cuts and changes to my Times copy for a simple reason. It’s what they want and it is they who sign the check. My ego doesn’t need to assert itself in every syllable of mine that sees print. For some writers, it does.

  16. collapse expand

    Could you explain that one more time? I think I’ve almost got it.

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